Grapevine: From Tisha Be’av to Tu Be’av

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July 23, 2015 20:39
Rivlin

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)

Every cloud has a silver lining, according to the adage, and in the case of the Hebrew calendar month of Av, that may well be so. Whereas Tisha Be’av commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and other calamities that befell the Jewish people, Tu Be’av, which comes less than a week later, is a time of romance and marriage. It is one of the most popular wedding dates on the Jewish calendar.

Taglit Birthright, which brings young Jews to Israel to acquaint them with their heritage, also plays a role in Tu Be’av – or at least in romance at any time of the year.

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Among the veteran examples are Alexis and Daniel Litvak. The two met 10 years ago when she was Alexis Pezzner.

They were on a Birthright Israel trip and met at Ben-Gurion Airport. Both were lost and bumped into each other when they were looking for the same group of people.

They teamed up and went looking together.

They found their group, then became bus buddies, and subsequently Birthright sweethearts.

They became engaged in November 2009. Needless to say, when Daniel was thinking about where to pop the question, he chose an airport.

Geography doesn’t necessarily get in the way of romance. Another Birthright couple, Tome Allali and Matthew Travers, have been conducting a long-distance relationship between the UK and the US for just over a year.

“Something clicked with us right at the beginning of our trip, and halfway through the trip we both could feel that it was something different than anything we ever felt,” said Allali. “After the trip we were both in the New York/New Jersey area and met up for a day in the beginning of August. We have been dating for almost a year now. I live in Chicago and Matt lives in London and we have been traveling back and forth every six-10 weeks. FaceTime is a lifesaver and has built our relationship even stronger.

“We are slowly figuring out what we are going to do, where we will live, jobs, etc., but for now we are hoping for a wedding in summer 2016 in Israel, where we met. It is kind of crazy to think about – that we only met due to the war. It feels mystical and fateful, like some higher power put us at the right place, at the right time.”

These are but two of several Cupid at Birthright examples.

■ AT THE Academy Awards in 1994 Schindler’s List won the Oscar in the Best Picture category and co-producers Steven Spielberg, Gerald R. Molen and Branko Lustig each collected a gold statuette. In his acceptance speech Spielberg said: “Thank you, thank you. Oh, wow. This is the best drink of water after the longest drought in my life. Let me just be brief because I would like Gerry and Branko to say something.

Let me just say there are 350,000 survivors of the Holocaust alive today. I implore all the educators who are watching this program to please, do not allow the Holocaust to remain a footnote in history....” Molen paid the usual tributes to cast, colleagues and family and hailed Spielberg for his courage and dedication of purpose.

Of the three, Lustig, as a former inmate of Auschwitz, was the only one who could fully identify with the film. “My number was 83317. I am a Holocaust survivor. It’s a long way from Auschwitz to this stage,” he said.

“I want to thank everyone who helped me to come so far. People died in front of me in the camps. Their last words were: “Be a witness of my murder. Tell the world how I died. Remember.” Together with Gerry, by helping Steven to make this movie I hope I fulfill my obligation to the innocent victims of the Holocaust. In the name of the six million Jews killed in the Shoah and other Nazi victims, I want to thank everyone for acknowledging this movie.”

Lustig was in Jerusalem this week to give his Oscar to Yad Vashem. The clip from his speech at the Academy Awards was screened by Liat Benhabib, the director of the Visual Center at Yad Vashem, where Holocaust films of every genre are collected.

Benhabib said that Schindler’s List remains the most sought-after film for screening at Holocaust commemorative events. She said the film is an icon of Holocaust cinema which has touched the hearts of millions.

She also showed a clip of Lustig’s return to Auschwitz, where he had first gone as a 10-year-old child. In another clip taken in 2011 that Benhabib had discovered, Lustig, then 79, was observing in Auschwitz the bar mitzva on which he had missed out. Benhabib has added the clip to the 10,000 existing titles in the data base of Yad Vashem’s Visual Center.

The collection comprises feature and documentary titles from all over the world, as well as tens of thousands of survivor testimonies, recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute established by Spielberg and by Yad Vashem. All of the testimonies and most of the films in the collection are available for viewing at the Visual Center. More Holocaust-related films will be made as more archival material is uncovered, Benhabib said, adding: “As we part from Holocaust survivors, film will become a more important feature of memory.”

Lustig survived two years in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and was reunited with his mother after the war. They returned to their hometown in Croatia to wait for his father, who never came. They discovered afterward that he was killed in a camp in Hungary on the last day of the war. Most members of Lustig’s family perished or were murdered in the death camps.

Lustig said that he is grateful to Spielberg for allowing him to co-produce Schindler’s List, which is such an important means of conveying Holocaust history.

What has driven him to keep telling the story of the Holocaust to schoolchildren all over Croatia, he said, is something that he himself witnessed as a child. He was taken briefly to a camp where the commander said that every fifth person in a row would be hung. He began counting and saw to his relief that the edict did not apply to him.

Then three men, whose hands were chained, were brought out and made to stand on stools beneath a scaffold. Before the stools were kicked away, the three looked at the prisoners, who were forced to watch their execution, and said in Yiddish: “Zei gezunt [be well] and don’t forget to tell the world what happened to us.”

Lustig took their dying request as a lifelong obligation.

Among the people in the audience were survivors of Schindler’s list, survivors of Auschwitz, Holocaust survivors from the former Yugoslavia and their descendants, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who timed her visit to Israel to coincide with Lustig’s presentation, Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunovic, diplomats of countries that were once part of Yugoslavia and Yitzhak Eldan, a former chief of protocol of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, who recently returned from taking a group of students from his School for Young Diplomats to Croatia, where they visited the infamous Jasenovac death camp.

Employing the Holocaust-related slogan “Never again,” Grabar-Kitarovic emphasized that it has happened again and that we see it happening around us. She wondered aloud how to tell the story not only of horrors of the Holocaust but of all totalitarian regimes “without victimizing the victims all over again.” At the same time, she stressed the need to keep retelling the story. “We must never tire of explaining the lessons of history,” she said.

She also warned of the inherent dangers of manipulating history and memory, because the rewriting of history can lead to new intolerance and atrocities.

“We all have a choice in the most difficult and darkest of circumstances, and the Righteous Among the Nations took the responsible choice,” she said.

The Croatian president stated that she wanted to express her sorrow for all the Croatians who were murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis and their Ustase regime Croatian collaborators.

Making the distinction between Croatia of the Holocaust years and that of today, she said that the modern Republic of Croatia was founded on anti-fascist resistance. She also said that 111 Croatians had been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

After the war, Marshal Josip Broz Tito established a school for children who had missed out on their education during the war. Lustig was a student at the school and so was Ruth Gat of Kibbutz Revadim, who before making aliya in 1948 was known as Inge Polak. Gat spent part of her childhood in the Lobograd camp established by the Ustase. She was very excited to meet Lustig, to whom she spoke in Croatian.

Also present was Dina Chen of Jerusalem, who is known among former Yugoslavians as “the baby in the package.” Her mother had succeeded in smuggling her out of the camp in a box, and she was left on the doorstep of the yet-uncaptured Jewish community.

And there was Hungarian-born Shmuel Eshel, originally known as Fajerman, who at 89 still bears a legible number on his arm.

He was saved by Oskar Schindler, but was not on the original list. In January 1945, he was one of some 100 people who had spent 10 days in two railway carriages without food in a train traveling from Poland to Czechoslovakia. Schindler heard about them and bribed German guards to let them go.

“If it wasn’t for Schindler, I wouldn’t be here,” said Eshel.

Unlike other Righteous Gentiles, Schindler did not save an individual, a handful of individuals or a whole family. He saved the lives of 1,200 Jews, and at his funeral in Jerusalem in October 1974, Jews of every stripe mingled with Christians who had come to honor him and escort him on his last journey.

■ WHEN HE greeted Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi this week, President Reuven Rivlin, 75, remarked that world leaders are getting younger and younger. Renzi is 40 years old and was 39 when sworn in to office. He was the much younger mayor of Florence the first time that he met Rivlin, who was then speaker of the Knesset. Renzi brought greetings from Italian President Sergio Matrarella and said that they are both looking forward to welcoming Rivlin to Italy when he arrives there in early September.

What he did not say was that they might even have a birthday surprise for him.

Rivlin’s birthday is on September 9.

■ DURING THE celebrations marking the 95th anniversary of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, honorary life president of World WIZO Raya Jaglom was presented with the Key to WIZO by Prof.

Rivka Lazofsky, chairwoman of the World WIZO executive, who described Jaglom as “an icon of WIZO history.” Jaglom, 96, continues to take an interest in WIZO. She served as world president for 26 years and was considered to be WIZO’s most successful fund-raiser.

■ FORMER MINISTER of culture and sport Limor Livnat will on Friday be the guest of Yigal Ravid on his weekly Channel 1 nostalgia program The Way it Was. Livnat made it clear that she would not comment on her successor, Miri Regev, or any of the controversies stirred up by Regev, but she did not have any reservations about discussing former Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon, whom she was instrumental in ousting from what had once been an airtight position. She was also happy to discuss critical government decisions in which she had played a cardinal role.

■ IRAN IS, or rather the deal with Iran seems to be, the No. 1 topic of discussion in Israel and the United States these days. Taking it beyond government level, the Tel Aviv International Salon – a major English-language nonprofit speakers forum that provides challenging, thought-provoking and intellectual discussion on a variety of subjects for young professionals in their 20s and 30s – will on Tuesday, July 28, host a debate between Emily Landau and Meir Javedanfar on the “Iran Nuclear Deal: Mistake or Opportunity?” The debate will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Beit Ariela.

Landau is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, where she is also director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project. She has published and lectured extensively on nuclear proliferation, arms control efforts, and regional security in the Middle East, including CSBMs; Arab perceptions of Israel’s qualitative edge; Israeli-Egyptian relations; the Arms Control and Regional Security working group of the Madrid peace process; international efforts to confront the proliferation challenges posed by Iran and North Korea; Israel’s nuclear image and policy; and developments in global nuclear arms control thinking in the post-Cold War world. Her current research focuses on regional dynamics and processes in the Middle East, and recent trends in global nuclear arms control thinking, including regarding the nuclear ambitions of determined proliferators.

She is co-author of Israel’s Nuclear Image: Arab Perceptions of Israel’s Nuclear Posture (1994), co-editor of Building Regional Security in the Middle East: International, Regional and Domestic Influences (2003), and author of Arms Control in the Middle East: Cooperative Security Dialogue and Regional Constraints (Sussex Academic Press, 2006). Among her recent publications are The Obama Vision and Nuclear Disarmament (co-editor, INSS, 2011) and Decade of Diplomacy: Negotiations with Iran and North Korea and the Future of Nuclear Non-Proliferation (author, INSS, 2012). She currently teaches nuclear strategy, negotiations and arms control in the International School of the University of Haifa, the executive MA program in Diplomacy and Security at Tel Aviv University and in the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

Javedanfar is an Iranian-born Iran-Israel Middle East analyst. He teaches the Contemporary Iranian Politics seminar at IDC Herzliya.

Javedanfar has been described as “a respected, Iranian-born writer and analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations” by Time magazine; a prominent Iranian-Israeli analyst by the Daily Telegraph; “one of the best informed observers” by Asia Times; and as “one of the most objective analysts” by Negarkha, a leading reformist news blog based in Iran.

Javedanfar was educated in Britain. He has a master’s in international relations and strategic studies from Lancaster University, as well as extensive experience in the analysis of Middle Eastern economic and political issues. He is multilingual and fluent in Farsi, Hebrew, English, Spanish and Portuguese.

He has been consulted in all of these languages by numerous media organizations including CNN, Fox News, BBC and The New York Times.

He has also lectured at numerous universities and conferences, such as George Washington University, the Foreign Affairs Symposium of the University of Baltimore, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and conferences in Brazil, Nigeria, Spain and Italy. He has been invited by several Israeli embassies abroad, including Latin America, to give lectures on Iran at local universities.

This is in addition to invitations by the US State Department and the Pentagon.

Javedanfar writes on a regular basis for numerous publications around the world.

Both Landau and Javedanfar are passionate and riveting speakers, so it should be an exciting evening.

■ WHILE IT’S not uncommon for political officials to come to Israel two or three times in the same year, it is extremely rare for celebrities from the world of entertainment to do so, which makes Mariah Curry an exception to the rule. Admittedly, when she was here two months ago, she didn’t come to perform but came with her significant other, Australian multimillionaire third-generation entrepreneur and media mogul James Packer. The two even had the honor of dining with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. It’s not certain that Curry will get an encore on that one, but there’s already been a rush on tickets for her scheduled performance at Rishon Lezion’s Amphi Park on August 18.

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